Friday August 1, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37)
Gospel (St. Matthew 13:54-58)
In the Gospel reading, the people of Nazareth are asking, “Where did Jesus get these mighty deeds? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary his mother? Aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Are not all his sisters here with us?” Now we have to ask ourselves, first of all, what does this mean about the questions they are asking? Does it mean that Jesus had brothers and sisters? The answer is “no”. If we look, for instance, in Saint Mark’s Gospel, he tells us exactly who the parents of these people are. They are not Mary or Joseph, but rather the parents are somebody else. There is another Mary who is the parent, the one who was standing at the foot of the Cross; she is the mother of these four sons. Remember too that in the native language of Our Lord there is not a word for cousin, and so anyone who is a close relative is called a brother or a sister. That remains to this very day. All of the first and second cousins and the aunts and uncles are all called brothers and sisters. So it is not necessarily meaning that they are siblings, but rather that they are close relatives.
Also – the tragic part of this as they took offense at Him – you have to remember that the very purpose for the founding of the town of Nazareth (the name comes from the Hebrew word nazer which means “the shoot”, meaning “the righteous shoot from the stump of Jesse” that was going to be raised up) was that the people knew which tribe, which family the Messiah was to be born from. The very purpose for founding the town is that they knew this righteous shoot that God had promised was going to come from their town. And they knew exactly which family, therefore, everyone who lived in Nazareth was part of the same clan and part of the same family because they knew the Messiah was going to be raised up from that particular group of people. They did not necessarily know which family, that is, which immediate family, but they had a pretty good idea. They knew who Our Lady was. They knew all of the promises. They knew the timing. They knew who the mother of the Messiah was supposed to be, and they also knew who Saint Joseph was to be, that is, that he was to be the foster-father of the Messiah because of the test they had done. They put his staff with the other young men’s into the synagogue, and in the morning they came in and a flower was on top of the staff. They knew he was to be the spouse of Our Lady and that he would be the foster-father of the Messiah. That is what makes this so unbearable to hear. The very people of the town that was founded because they knew the Messiah was going to be raised from their number refused to believe in the Messiah when He came because they knew His mother, because they knew He was the son of a carpenter, because they knew His immediate relatives. They were all His relatives, and they refused to believe even though this was the very purpose for which they had come to this particular town.
When we see that, we recognize the humanness of it all. Even though they had all the knowledge they really needed to know who the Messiah was, they refused to believe. Perhaps it was out of pride: “I wanted it to be my son. I thought it should have been me. It should have been someone in my immediate family instead of their immediate family.” We do not know why they refused to believe. Was it because Mary and Joseph lived just an ordinary kind of life and nobody could see that this Messiah that was raised up was not something that appeared externally to be extraordinary? We do not know. The fact of the matter is that they knew Him, and because they knew Him they refused to believe in Him.
Well, now we are His family, brothers and sisters of the Lord, in fact, even closer than that – members of Jesus Christ Himself. We have been chosen by God for the dignity which He has given to us, and we run into the exact same problem: Because we think we know Him, we refuse to believe. Not that we refuse to believe objectively, we know that He is the Messiah and we all acknowledge that; but we refuse to believe in Him in our lives. We refuse to believe because we think we know how He is supposed to work, Who He is supposed to be, and what He is supposed to do. And so when He tries to do things in our lives, we will not allow it because we think we already have the parameters set up in our minds and we do not allow Him to get out of the box we have made for Him. He is God – there is no box that we can put God in because there are no boundaries in God.
We need to let down our guard. We need to put aside all of our preconceived notions. We need to allow Him to do in our lives whatever He wants to do, and quit trying to tell Him what He is supposed to do and how He is supposed to do it because we think we know Him and we think we know how He is supposed to act in our lives. It needs to be the other way around. He knows us and He knows us perfectly. We need to allow Him to tell us how we are supposed to act and who we are supposed to be as members of His own Person. When we can finally get our own selves out of the way, then He will be able to work His mighty deeds within us because our lack of faith will no longer be an astonishment to Our Blessed Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.